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NASA celebrates Halloween with space ghost images

NASA offers up wispy images of three dying stars to show how space generates its own ghosts.

Dying stars
These dying stars are known as "planetary nebulas."
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

In space, no one can hear a dying star scream, but you can certainly see the aftermath if you have a space telescope. To celebrate the spooky season, NASA released three images of "the disembodied remains of dying stars" captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The images of planetary nebulae were captured in infrared light, showing the death of three stars, one of which looks an awful lot like the Mutara Nebula from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

The three nebulae all have interesting names. The first earned the nickname of the "Exposed Cranium" for its resemblance to a brain. It consists of an inner area of ionized gas surrounded by a greenish area of hydrogen molecules. The second nebula is known as the "Ghost of Jupiter" and is located in the Hydra constellation.

The final nebula is the "Little Dumbbell," which stretches out on either side, causing it to look like a squat dumbbell. The glowing look comes from hydrogen molecules.

"Some might call the images haunting. We look to the pictures for a sense of the history of the stars' mass loss, and to learn how they evolved over time," said Joseph Hora, principal investigator of the Spitzer observing program.

The images have an uncanny quality to them. Young stars probably look under their cosmic beds at night just to make sure there are no planetary nebulae lurking underneath.